A Market-Based Approach to Increasing Access to Affordable and Sustainable Hygiene Products
By Mekdim Hailu, Project Communication Manager, PSI Ethiopia
Imagine waking up one day and being faced with two unappealing options: staying home and missing school or work, or using rags, newspapers, or ashes as makeshift sanitary pads for menstrual hygiene. This is not a fictional scenario but a harsh reality for many menstruating girls and women in Ethiopia. Lack of access to menstrual hygiene products not only affects women’s education and work, but also puts their health at risk as using unhygienic materials during menstruation can lead to infections and other health problems.
A key challenge in countries like Ethiopia is the inadequate and expensive supply of quality menstrual products. According to Performance Monitoring and Accountability 2020 (PMA 2020), only 28 percent of Ethiopian women report having all the tools they need to manage their menstruation, leaving the majority without access to quality menstrual hygiene products. Shockingly, 25 percent of women do not use sanitary products at all, instead resorting to unhygienic materials such as rags, newspapers, and even ash-filled clothing. Despite successful efforts by advocacy groups to reduce tariffs on menstrual hygiene products from 30 to 10 percent, disposable sanitary pads have become 75 percent more expensive in the last three years. Therefore, it remains important to take additional measures to ensure long-term price stability and create a more affordable supply of a range of such products.
To address sanitation challenges, USAID Transform WASH (T/WASH) is committed to building a sustainable WASH market that includes menstrual hygiene products, such as reusable sanitary pads. T/WASH is working to ensure that these products are accessible and affordable for girls and women throughout Ethiopia, especially in remote rural areas, where access to disposable sanitary pads is limited.
While a few local producers offer washable pads, they are not widely used. However, these pads offer a cost-effective solution in the long run as they can last for years with proper care, unlike disposable pads, which require frequent purchasing. A pack of disposable pads costs an average of 70 Ethiopian birr (US $1.30) while a pack of 4 washable pads is obtainable for 100 birr ($2).
In 2020, T/WASH partnered with MHM product manufacturers Mariam Sheba and Mariod to build market relationships with its retail business partners to offer reusable sanitary pads for girls and women to purchase. Over the past three years, 18 business partners have sold more than 13,000 pads throughout Ethiopia. To expand the offering, T/WASH recently partnered with Mela for Her and Adey Pads, women-led organizations that produce reusable sanitary pads. Mickal Mamo, founder of Adey Pads, expressed her excitement about the partnership with Transform WASH. She said, “We are excited about the journey ahead. Transform WASH will help us enter an established market with an existing supply chain, which will make it easier for us to reach consumers. The market-based approach to sanitation is unique and sustainable, and it’s great to be a part of it.”
By making menstrual hygiene products accessible to everyone in Ethiopia, Transform WASH is not only improving the lives of girls and women, but also paving the way for a more sustainable and equitable society. Menstrual hygiene is a serious challenge in urgent need of attention and action. With efforts like those of Transform WASH, we can make progress toward a future where girls and women have the tools they need to manage their menstruation safely and with dignity. Together, we can change the conversation about menstrual hygiene and positively impact the lives of millions of women and girls.
About Transform WASH
USAID Transform WASH aims to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) outcomes in Ethiopia by increasing market access to and sustained use of a broader spectrum of affordable WASH products and services, with a substantial focus on sanitation. Transform WASH achieves this by transforming the market for low-cost quality WASH products and services, stimulating demand at the community level, strengthening supply chains, and improving the enabling environment for a vibrant private market.
USAID Transform WASH is a USAID-funded activity implemented by PSI in collaboration with SNV and IRC WASH. The consortium is working closely with government agencies, including the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Water and Energy, the One WASH National Program, and regional and sub-regional governments.